Dhiren Bhagat finds the new report
on a massacre of Sikhs inferior to the 1919 version
New Delhi IT IS useful when reading the official report on the massacre of Sikhs following the assassination of Mrs Gandhi to remind oneself that Rajiv Gandhi's government is not the first to have resisted ordering an inquiry into a terrible massacre, or, having ordered it, tried to obtain a result more favourable to themselves. Mr Justice Mish- ra's report was submitted last July and was tabled before the Indian government in February. On 13 April 1919 the massacre of Jallianwallah Bagh took place; as late as 22 May, the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, under pressure in the House of Commons, said in the Budget speech, 'Let us talk of the inquiry when we have put the fire out.' A week later, the war in Afghanistan was over and the Punjab became peaceful. Now there was no reason to delay the inquiry.
The telegraph wires connecting Delhi to London buzzed with communications be- tween Montagu and the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, who expressed real reluct- ance. So we find Montagu imploring Lord Chelmsford not to adopt the view that the government of India had to defend whatev- er had been done or that the inquiry had to whitewash everything. 'In that case we shall have achieved nothing and we shall have done more to ,;mbitter feelings than anything.' If only this sound advice had been wired to our government of India. In time, the Disorders Inquiry Committee -1919 was appointed with Lord Hunter, the Solicitor- General for Scotland, as its president and seven other members: three British civi- lians, one British general and three Indi- ans. Historians aside, few today bother to read the Hunter Committee report; cer- tainly it does not appear Mr Justice Mishra has.
The most horrendous evidence in the Hunter Committee report is contained in the cross-examination of General Dyer.
'When you got into the bagh [park], what did you do?'
'I opened fire.'
'Immediately. I had thought about the matter and don't imagine it took me more than 30 seconds.' Since the general had admitted that a good many people in the bagh would not have heard the proclama- tion made earlier that day prohibiting processions or gatherings, Lord Hunter asked, 'Did it not occur to you that it was a proper measure to ask the crowd to dis- perse before you took that step of actually firing?'
'No, at that time it did not. I merely felt that my orders had not been obeyed . . .
'Before you dispersed the crowd, had the crowd taken any action at all?' 'No sir, they had run away, a few of them.'
And later: `Did the crowd at once start to disperse as soon as you fired?'
• 'Did you continue firing.'
`After the crowd indicated that it was going to disperse why did you not stop?' 'I thought it was my duty to go on until it dispersed.' In reply to a question from Justice Rankin. Dyer went so far as to say, 'I had made up my mind I would do all men to death if they were going to continue the meeting.' But it was Sir Chimanlal Setal- vad's cross-examination that really tripped up Dyer, who was rash enough to volun- teer replies to hypothetical questions. `Supposing the passage [into the bagh] was sufficient to allow armoured cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?'
'I think probably yes.' When it came to preparing a report, unanimity proved difficult and the commit- tee split on racial lines. Even so, both the majority report and the minority report were published under the same covers. There was no ground to believe that Hunter had headed a cover-up operation. Even the report of the Punjab Subcommit- tee of the Indian National Congress drew freely on testimony given to the Hunter Committee by Dyer and others. Mr Justice Mishra, alas, was too busy to cross-examine any of the prominent Con- gressmen against whom grave allegations have been made in the depositions: allega- tions that they instigated and organised the massacres. He had better things to do. When not making trenchant observations about the viewing habits of children ('TheY are more punctual than adults in viewing television programmes') he is busy quoting Mueller's eulogies about the spiritual wealth of India. When he has finished exhorting 'everyone in society . . . to put in great efforts in the right line, first to stop the downward trend and then, raise the same up' he busies himself with insisting that 'every Indian must feel proud to have been born in India'.
Must we? Certainly there is little in Mr Justice Mishra's report to justify such pride. Take the case of H.K.L. Bhagat, the only member of the cabinet to have been implicated in depositions before the Mish- ra Commission. The Mishra Commission had no intention 'of separately dealing with the case of Shri Bhagat'. According to affidavits filed by at least five people, Mr Bhagat held a meeting at the home of a Congress (I) worker, Shyarn Singh Tyagi, in Shakharpur on the night of 31 October 1984 during which he directed those present to kill Sikhs. Mr Justice Mishra waves away these affidavits with a single sentence: 'The evidence regarding what transpired is scanty.' It will not do. We are later told 'some of the deponents were cross-examined and they have not stood the test while some have not broken down'. Well, what of the evidence of those who did not 'break down'? What attempt was made to obtain more information?
Was Shyam Singh Tyagi questioned? His family? His neighbours? And most impor- tant, why wasn't Mr H.K.L. Bhagat cross- examined? Mr Justice Mishra has thrown away one of the great opportunities of our time. (When approached by newspapers Mr Bhagat simply declines to speak.) Instead we are given circumstantial evi- dence and conjectures which, we are to believe, suggest Mr Bhagat's innocence: The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi said Bhagat rang him for 'assistance in the affected areas'. The omnipresent district magistrate said he did not see 'any political leader moving about to support the riotous mobs'.
The Mishra report does, however, con- cede that there is no particular reason to disbelieve allegations against 19 junior members of the Congress Party. But that is not the only list of Congress leaders against whom allegations have been made. In the written arguments of the Delhi Sikh G. nrudwara Management Committee there is another list one of 13 senior Congress- men (including Mr Bhagat) against whom affidavits have been filed. Two of the men who submitted the affadavits against Mr Bhagat, Jagjit Singh and Saroop Singh, have also accused one of the 19, Shyam Singh Tyagi. If their accusations against Tyagi are to be believed, perhaps we should be told why their accusations against Mr Bhagat are not to be believed. Unfortunately its not just Mr Justice Mishra. What all this adds up to is a more Important decline in Indian public life, a decline in the intellectual standards of our thinking classes. We are not satisfied with the government's version: what do we do about it?
Since its publication in November 1984, the people's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) report Who Are the Guilty? has been widely accepted as the definitive account of the 1984 massacre. But if we are to compare the Hunter report to the Mishra report it would be useful to com- pare this fairly flimsy pamphlet to the solid two-volume report produced by the Punjab Subcommittee of the Indian National Con- gress in 1920. Volume two of this work contains 829 statements obtained by the committee, complete with names and addresses of those questioned. In compari- son the PUCL report contains six. In the 1920 report we know who the accusers are. The 1984 report names 16 politicians, 13 policemen and 196 others as having been responsible in one capacity or the other for the massacre, but these lists are quite useless as we are not told who has made these allegations. In the 65 years since Jallianwallah Bagh an incredible shoddi- ness has infected the national intellect.